What was the meaning of the Tarot reading that Madame Xanadu gave to Daniel Cassidy in the latest episode of Swamp Thing? While the episode made it clear that the cards suggested a change in Cassidy's fortunes after eight years of getting the same result over and over, the precise meaning of the individual cards was not explained.
Some Tarot practitioners claim that the art of using cards to tell the future dates back to the time of the Ancient Egyptians, but there is no serious scholarly evidence of this. The first recorded instance of the Tarot being used for fortune-telling dates back to the 1750s. Before that, Tarot cards were used in playing various games and the oldest intact Tarot decks date back to the late 15th Century.
Regardless of the reality in our world, Tarot cards are the preferred medium of choice for the fortune teller Madame Xanadu in the DC Universe. "He Speaks," the latest episode of Swamp Thing, has a scene in which local shopkeeper and would-be Hollywood star Dan Cassidy asks Madame Xanadu to use her cards to tell him his destiny. At first it seems the aspiring actor is hoping to find out that he will soon catch his big break, but it is soon revealed that he has something else on his mind. As Xanadu shuffles the cards, she asks Cassidy to focus his mind on "when your mission will be complete and your waiting will end," after making reference to how Cassidy has lived in Marais, Louisiana for eight years and gotten the same three cards every time she told his fortune.
The 3-card spread that Xanadu creates seems to be a variation on the standard past-present-future foretelling used by many Tarot readers, with the first two cards reflecting the subject of the reading in the present and the future and the meaning of the third card left unexplained. The three cards making up Cassidy's fortune are The Fool (Present), The Hanged Man (Future) and the Wheel of Fortune. The Fool represents new beginnings, taking chances and fighting authority. The Hanged Man can symbolize either a reversal of fortune, an acceptance of one's fate or a painful sacrifice for the greater good. The Wheel of Fortune signifies shifting opportunities, good luck and fate taking a hand in your life.
Before Xanadu can reveal the third card, Cassidy stands up and turns his back, cursing his ill luck. It is then that Xanadu reveals that while the same three cards have come up, they are reversed (i.e. upside down.) When Daniel asks if that's good, Xanadu cryptically responds that something new is beginning for him but she can't say what. She then asks if anyone new has come into his life and he mentions Dr. Abby Arcane, wondering out loud if she is the one he has apparently been waiting for over the past eight years.
It is worth noting that when a Tarot card is reversed it is rarely a good thing. A reversed Fool, for instance, represents new beginnings like an upright Fool, but also represents recklessness and a loss of faith. A reversed Hanged Man can refer to a meaningless sacrifice and an inability to move forward, while a reversed Wheel of Fortune signifies bad things coming and a complete inability to control one's own destiny. These cards may all be making reference to Dan Cassidy's eventual fate from the comics, where he was transformed by abyssal energies into a true demon who fought on the side of the angels as The Blue Devil. If that's the case, then the writers of Swamp Thing are to be commended for not taking the obvious route with Cassidy's reading and making every card he draws come up as The Devil.